Sat, Nov 29, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Opposition leader slams Roh for nixing inquiry

HUNGER STRIKE Entering the third day of his fast, Choe Byung-yol said President Roh Moo-hyun blocked a bribe probe in order to conceal something embarrassing

REUTERS , SEOUL

South Korea's hunger-striking opposition leader accused President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday of blocking an independent inquiry into a mounting political funding scandal because he had something embarrassing to hide.

Choe Byung-yol told a news briefing on the third day of his indefinite fast that he had no faith in the state prosecution's own probe into Roh aides accused of taking bribes before last year's presidential election.

"If a special counsel investigates the case we can get closer to the truth," he said, sitting cross-legged on a blue cushion against the backdrop of a banner saying, "I will save the nation."

Roh vetoed the bill calling for a special counsel on Tuesday.

"The reason why he blocked the bill was because he had something embarrassing he desperately wants to hide," said Choe, a water bottle to one side and a copy of the English-language health book Fit for Life on the other.

Choe did not elaborate but on Thursday his Grand National Party, which dominates the National Assembly, urged the prosecution to investigate Roh, too.

The presidential Blue House said it was a matter for the prose-cutors. There was no immediate reaction to Choe's comments.

Roh argues more time is needed for the inquiry, which has widened to take in affiliates of big chaebol conglomerates -- global names such as LG Group, SK Group, Samsung and Hyundai Motor -- and opposition parties ahead of a tight April parliamentary election.

Roh has vowed to cut ties between politics and the chaebol.

Choe says he will eat again only if Roh lifts the veto. All his 149 parliamentarians are boycotting the 273-seat parliament, which still has 1,205 bills to vote on before Dec. 9.

"Because this matter is critical for whether we decide to conduct a referendum, it's inevitable for us to use measures which look extreme and go so far as to paralyze parliament," said Choe.

The boycott could hold up voting on next year's budget. Political tensions also do little to help the North Korean nuclear crisis.

"After seeing the precise result of the investigation into three key aides we will decide whether to push for impeachment or accept the referendum," Choe said.

Roh last month called for a referendum on his rule and ordered the inquiry.

A Blue House official, however, said it would be hard to stick to a mooted Dec. 15 vote because of political developments.

A close Roh aide is under investigation for taking 1.1 billion won (US$915,000) from the scandal-tainted SK Group.

Prosecutors investigating fund-raising practices during the election, in which Roh narrowly upset a conservative candidate, have raided units of South Korea's two largest chaebol, Samsung Group and LG Group.

On Thursday, they searched the offices of a leasing and lending arm of the country's top car maker, Hyundai Motor.

Choe said there was no point trying to overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority because the bill had been passed by that margin and Roh would muster votes to thwart the opposition.

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